Friday, July 30, 2010

Esperanza Spalding "Chamber Music Society" - Heads Up 8/17 #jazz [Video]


Centuries ago, long before the advent of radio or recording technology, chamber music was the music for the masses – the music in which people from nearly every segment of society could find meaning and relevance. A decade into the 21st century, Esperanza Spalding – the bassist, vocalist and composer who first appeared on the jazz scene in 2008 – takes a contemporary approach to this once universal form of entertainment with  a world tour in support of Chamber Music Society, her August 17, 2010, release on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group.

Esperanza creates a modern chamber music group that combines the spontaneity and intrigue of improvisation with sweet and angular string trio arrangements. The result is a sound that weaves the innovative elements of jazz, folk and world music into the enduring foundations of classical music.

“So much of my early musical experience was spent playing chamber music on the violin, and it’s a form of music that I’ve always loved,” says Esperanza. “I was very inspired by a lot of classical music, and chamber music in particular. I’m intrigued by the concept of intimate works that can be played and experienced among friends in an intimate setting. So I decided to create my version of contemporary chamber music, and add one more voice to that rich history.”

Chamber Music Society is a place where connoisseurs of classical music and jazz devotees – and fans of other musics as well – can find common ground. The recording offers a chamber music for modern times – one that brings together people of different perspectives and broadens their cultural experience, just as it did in an earlier age.

Esperanza first took the world by storm in 2008 with her self-titled debut recording that spent more than 70 weeks on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. Spalding was booked on the Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live, the CBS Saturday Early Show, the Tavis Smiley Show, Austin City Limits and National Public Radio. Other highlights included two appearances at the White House, a Banana Republic ad campaign, the Jazz Journalists Association’s 2009 Jazz Award for Up and Coming Artist of the Year, the 2009 JazzWeek Award for Record of the Year, and many high profile tour dates, including Central Park SummerStage in New York and the Newport Jazz Festival. 2009 was capped by an invitation from President Obama to perform at both the Nobel Prize Ceremony in Oslo , Norway – where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded – and also at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert.
In early 2010, Spalding was the subject of an in-depth profile in The New Yorker, she was also featured in the May 2010 Anniversary issue of O, The Oprah Magazine’s “Women on the Rise” (in a fashion spread that features portraits of 10 women who are making a difference in various careers), and she was again nominated by the Jazz Journalists Association for their 2010 Jazz Award for Up and Coming Artist of the Year.
“I’m confident that this music will touch people,” she says of Chamber Music Society. “We all want to hear sincerity and originality in music, and anyone can recognize and appreciate when love and truth are transmitted through art. No matter what else has or hasn’t been achieved on this recording, those things are definitely a part of this music. Those are the things I really want to deliver.”

2010 US and World Tour Dates
September 5th with Tokyo Jazz Festival with Terri Lyn Carrington – Tokyo , Japan
September 17th    - Grinell College – Grinell , IA
September 19th   - Stoughton Opera House – Soughton , WI
September 21st & 22nd  - Dakota – Minneapolis , MN
September 23 Leighton Concert Hall- DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts -Notre Dame –IN, September 24th - Knight Theater - Charlotte, NC-
September 29th - Byham Theater - New York , NY  
October- 2nd - Sanders Theatre  Harvard Univ. - Cambridge, MA
 October 3rd - Lincoln Theatre- Washington DC-
October 7th - Santa Monica College of performing arts - The Broad Stage - Santa Monica. CA –
October 8th - Spanos Theatre - San Luis Obispo, CA –
October 10th - Davies Symphony Hall - San Francisco, CA –
October 11th - Kate Buchanan Hall -Humbolt State University - Arcata, CA
October 16th - Plenary at the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies conference - Austin, TX (performance and speaking engagement)
October 24th – Philarmonie – Luxemburg – LX
October 27th – Muzikgebouw – Amsterdam – Holland
October 28th - Theaterhaus Gessnerallee Zurich  - Winterthur – CH
October 29th - Stockolm Konzerthus – Stockholm – Sweden
November 1st - Goteborg Konzerthus – Goteborg – Sweden
November 2nd- Black Diamond – Copenhaguen – Denmark
November 4th - Logen Thatre – Bergen – Norway
November 5th - Sentrum Scene  - Oslo – Norway
November 8th - Theatre de L'Atelier – Paris – France
November 10th - Victoria Hall – Geneve- CH
November 13th - Queen Elizabeth Hall – London – UK
November 17th - Fest. Jazz (Teatro F. Fernan Gomez) – Madrid – Spain
November 19th – Auditorio – Zaragoza – Spain
November 20th – Festival Jazz Cartagena – Cartagena – Spain
November 21st – Teatro Isabel La Católica – Granada – Spain
December 9th - Hancher Auditorium – Iowa City- IA
December 10th – Chicago Symphony – Chicago- IL (double bill Regina Carter)
December 11th - Buffalo State Performing Arts Center - Buffalo State College – Buffalo

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Upcoming New Jazz Releases - August 3, 2010

Alex Brown - Pianist (Sunny Side )
Andre Previn & David Rose - Secret Songs For Young Lovers (Pickwick )
Augie's Side Effect - About Time (Soh-Select O Hits Label Group )
Benny Goodman - Ultimate Big Band Collection (Masterworks )
Charles Mingus - Original Album Classics (Sony Uk/Zoom )
Chris Connor - Sings Ballards Of The Sad Cafe (Pickwick )
Dean Martin - Sings The Hits (Delta (Uk) )
Debbie Reynolds - Love Is A Simple Thing (Delta (Uk) )
Freddy Cole - Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B (High Note )
Gabor Sazbo - In Budapest Live (1974) (Moiras )
Hirth Martinez - Teenage Hirth (Vivid Japan/Zoom )
Jackiem Joyner - Jackiem Joyner (Mack Avenue )
John Coltrane - Trane's Comin (Indie Europe/Zoom )
John Helliwell - Creme Anglaise (United States Of Distribution LTD.)
Larkin's Jazz - Larkins Jazz ( )
Lena Horne - Bewitched (Delta (Uk) )
Les Sabler - Crescent Shores (Big Deal )
Lester Teddy Wilson Young - Prez & Teddy: The Great Recordings (Phantom )
Louis Armstrong - Absolutely Essential 3 CD Collection (Phantom )
Mike Westbrook - Fine 'N' Yellow (Voiceprint )
Miles Davis - King Of Blue (Pickwick )
Miles Davis - Original Album Classics (Sony Uk/Zoom )
Miles Davis - Walkin Cookin Relaxin Workin & Steami (Indie Europe/Zoom )
Nick Rosen - Into The Sky ( )
Nina Simone - Family, Friends, French Lessons ( )
Paul Hardcastle - Paul Hardcastle 1983-09 (Phantom )
Stanley Clarke - Rock Pebbles & Sand/Let Me Know You (Beat Goes On )
Stephane Grappelli & Django Reinhardt - With The Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France (Delta (Uk) )
Steve Turre - Delicious And Delightful (High Note )
Tim Bowman - Collection (Trippin & Rhyth )
Tubby Hayes - Voodoo Session (Forcex )


Kenny Burrell - Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane (JVC XRCD )

Our thanks to:New release information provided by
The Upcoming Release Center at is the most comprehensive new release listing for jazz music on the internet.
The information is updated biweekly by John Kelman

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Smooth Jazz Chart - Weekly Top 20 - July 26, 2010

LW - TW - Artist - Album - (Label)
2 - 1 - Steve Oliver - "Global Kiss" - (SOM)
1 - 2 - Brian Bromberg - "It Is What It Is" - (Artistry/Mack Avenue)
7 - 3 - Mindi Abair - "In Hi-Fi Stereo" - (Heads Up)
3 - 4 - Kenny G - "Heart & Soul" - (Concord)
11 - 5 - Jazzmasters - "Jazzmasters 6" - (Trippin 'n Rhythm)
5 - 6 - Chris Standring - "Blue Bolero" - (Ultimate Vibe)
4 - 7 - Rick Braun - "All It Takes" - (Artistry)
8 - 8 - Richard Elliot - "Rock Steady" (Artistry/Mack Avenue)
9 - 9 - Darren Rahn - "Talk Of The Town" - (NuGroove)
10 - 10 - Jonathan Butler - "So Strong" - (Rendezvous/Mack Avenue")
13 - 11 - Norman Brown - "Send My Love" (Peak/Concord)
12 - 12 - Sade - "Soldier Of Love" - (Epic)
6 - 13 - Peter White - "Good Day" - (Peak/Concord)
19 - 14 - David Benoit - "Earthglow" - (Heads Up)
14 - 15 - Walter Beasley - "Free Your Mind" (Heads Up)
15 - 16 - Eric Darius - "On A Mission" (Shanachie)
16 - 17 - Kim Waters - "Love Stories" - (Shanachie)
18 - 18 - Jessy J - "True Love" - (Peak)
21 - 19 - Euge Groove - "Sunday Morning" - (Shanachie)
20 - 20 - Jeff Lorber Fusion - "Now Is The Time" (Heads Up)

Our thanks to smoothjazz.comVisit to view the latest complete top 50 chart.
Visit to view the latest weekly chart recap.

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Kirk Whalum - "Everything Is Everything - The Music Of Donny Hathaway 8/31

Pre-order Everything is Everything: The Music of Donny Hathaway

The breadth and depth of Kirk Whalum’s Everything Is Everything: The Music Of Donny Hathaway on Rendezvous Music/Mack Avenue Records reflects everything he has been and is as an artist, and bumps it up a notch for a breathtaking, beautiful and breakthrough excursion. Kirk reveals, “It is the first time you’ll hear me with a chamber orchestra.” From soothing strings to screamin’ guitars, from streetwise city funk, blues and gospel charm to the romp and rest of country landscapes, right into the recesses of heart and soul, Whalum and company’s creativity never lets up.

Whalum recently released The Gospel According To Jazz, Chapter III — the third installment on his award winning series —prominently featuring Donny’s daughter Lalah. On the heels of one Hathaway collaboration, producer Matt Pierson proposed another. Kirk recounts, “Matt had a really tight concept. Also, Gil Goldstein and John Stoddart’s arrangements were axiomatic to this record.” Pierson, the visionary behind Whalum’s No. 1 album For You, knows that as celebrated as Whalum is for his original compositions, he is extraordinarily gifted at rendering graceful, incisive and soulful interpretations of other artists’ classic works.

The album’s ensemble of Jef Lee Johnson on electric guitar, John Stoddart on keyboards, Christian McBride on bass and Lil’ John Roberts on drums was foundational. “I was so thrilled,” says Kirk. “We got in the studio. We all realized that everyone in that room was from Philadelphia but me. There is something about that Philly/Memphis connection.” Guest appearances from Jeff Golub on guitar, Rick Braun on flugelhorn and the inimitable Robert Randolph on pedal (sacred) steel, as well as vocals from Hathaway’s daughter Lalah and R&B chart-topper Musiq Soulchild, augment the super-group along with an orchestra under the direction of Goldstein and Stoddart. Added to the mix are master organist Shedrick Mitchell (Maxwell, Whitney Houston), acoustic guitar virtuoso Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm) and studio MVP percussionist Bashiri Johnson.

On Everything Is Everything: The Music Of Donny Hathaway, each song was either written or recorded by Donny during his brief career. Although many artists have covered Hathaway, Whalum’s roots in gospel and the church, his understanding of vocal music and ability to translate that instrumentally, as well as his resonance with Donny’s hope and vision make this not only a tribute but also a spiritual collaboration.

The album opens with a delightfully spacious arrangement of “Giving Up,” displaying tasty percussion and whining, wailing horns countering Whalum’s evocative sax. The hopeful, soothing “Someday We’ll All Be Free” follows. Gil Goldstein’s masterful arrangement and Kirk’s rhapsodizing paint a dreamy landscape expressing both the longing for and the reality of that place of freedom. Next Whalum brings moody warmth to “We’re Still Friends,” and Hathaway’s depth of soul finds sympathetic and complementary vocal styling from neo-soul innovator Musiq Soulchild, who has made it no secret that Donny is a primary influence, not only on his vocal style but also on his overall artistic vision.

Spunky, smooth, playful and overflowing with (as the title suggests) “Love, Love, Love,” Whalum’s and Braun’s musical exchange alternates between dialogue and unison, mirroring an intriguing romance. Whalum enthuses, “It’s a happy, uplifting song. The thing I love about playing with Rick: we’re both deeply influenced by soul and bebop, and there is a natural symbiosis based on our musical influences.”

Goldstein’s expert arrangement of “A Song For You” hooks the listener immediately with an orchestrated treatment of Hathaway’s trademark descending piano arpeggios. Although this is Hathaway’s signature song (penned by rocker Leon Russell) the melodic, lyrical beauty and power is essential Whalum. The orchestration, strategic space and plaintive cry of the sax make this a mandatory addition to your romance collection.

Whalum calls "Valdez In The Country” (featuring Jeff Golub on guitar) “the quintessential hit instrumental song. The song crosses all those boundaries between ‘art music’ and real jazz and R&B.” Describing the percolating joy fest he adds, “The song has a happy melody and Jeff naturally adds his skanky, Memphis, New York rock ’n’ roll guitar vibe.”

"Je Vous Aime (I Love You)" reflects Kirk’s love of everything French and returns to romance with a bit of gospel/blues flavor, adding some sacred space and transcendent power. “As I played I thought both of how precious it is to have someone who loves you enough to ‘stand by your side,’ as my wife Ruby's done for me, and even how much more precious it is to know that the Savior promised that he would never ‘leave or forsake’ us. When you sum up what it means to be ‘alive,’ it means family and community. Jesus hung in there with me. He held on to my hand. And I just want to say ‘I love you.’ That’s the sum total of my music. That’s the message…”

Another emotional situation centered on Hathaway’s daughter. “Lalah has generally avoided performing her father’s songs,” discloses Pierson, “but since she and Kirk have such a strong connection, I felt that it was important to have her involved in the project. The key was to find a song that he hadn’t sung himself, preferably something he wrote for a female vocalist. Thankfully Donny produced the group Cold Blood back in the 1970s and wrote ‘You Had To Know’ to feature vocalist Lydia Pense. It felt like a perfect song for Lalah.” Whalum adds, “When we put it out there, she said yes and I’m so glad she did. I dedicated the song to Ruby. Definitely Lalah’s performance of it is so sensitive and beautiful and nostalgic.”

“Tryin’ Times” is sanctified funk replete with rockin’ gospel/blues fusion. Robert Randolph’s pedal steel alongside Kirk’s soulful sax is a musical marriage made in heaven. “We Need You Right Now,” one of Hathaway’s many conversations with God, is personal and powerful prayer poetry. “There’s a fine line between sacred and secular,” intones Whalum, “and Donny blew that away. I forgot I was in a studio; I wandered off to a corner just worshiping God with a horn.”

The album concludes with the title track which is basically a mash-up of three songs: “Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything)” from Donny’s 1970 debut recording; Sly Stone’s influential 1973 track “In Time”; and Lauryn Hill’s 1998 hit “Everything Is Everything.” With Jef Lee Johnson and Shedrick Mitchell working the Sly guitar hook throughout plus Whalum’s tenor, Braun’s muted trumpet, Randolph’s crying pedal steel, Campbell’s countrified National steel guitar and Stoddart’s soulful vocal adlib, it’s a party. Pierson explains, “The listener is transported to a higher musical plane, feeling the optimism, joy and emotional immediacy that defined the music of Donny Hathaway.”

Kirk’s primal connection to soul comes naturally. He was born in Memphis, musical home of Otis, Sam and Elvis…in that order. His history there is part of what connects him so deeply to the music of Donny Hathaway. “If you think about how I got started, it was the live gospel instrumental experience there in my home church where my Dad was pastor.” The R&B, blues, pop and jazz that imbue Kirk’s expression are obviously part of the Memphis legacy and Kirk made the jazz connection when he was in high school.

He received a music scholarship from Texas Southern University in Houston, where he formed his own band, playing original compositions on the Texas club circuit. After opening for Bob James in Houston one night in 1984 Whalum was invited to New York by the celebrated pianist to appear on his album 12. Whalum signed with Columbia shortly thereafter, releasing five albums for the label: Floppy Disk (1985), And You Know That (1988), The Promise (1989), Caché (1993) and In This Life (1995).

While still there he collaborated with Bob James on the 1996 Warner Bros. release Joined At The Hip, which won Kirk his first Grammy® nomination. In 1997 Whalum signed to Warner Bros. Records and released his solo debut for the label, Colors. It was during that transitional time that The Gospel According To Jazz concept gained steam and the first GATJ was released in October of 1998, the same year he released For You, his collection of soul and R&B covers, which yielded four Top 10 hits.

In 2000 Whalum released Hymns In The Garden which received a Grammy nomination for best Pop Instrumental Album. Unconditional, also released that year, generated three Grammy nominations over two years for Pop Instrumental Song (2001 and 2002) and Pop Instrumental Album (2001). Unconditional captured the No. 1 spot on the jazz charts, his fourth album to do so, and generated a No. 1 radio hit, “Now ’Til Forever.” In 2002 The Gospel According To Jazz, Chapter II and The Christmas Message were released, ultimately garnering two more Grammy nominations. His last album on the Warner label Into My Soul (2003) took Kirk back to his Memphis roots.
Transitioning to Rendezvous, he teamed up with Pierson as producer for Kirk Whalum Performs The Babyface Songbook (2005) and followed with Roundtrip (2007), both catapulting to No. 2 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart—the latter garnering him his eighth Grammy nomination. The Gospel According To Jazz, Chapter III, released earlier this year, began the Hathaway connection with Lalah featured on a number of songs.

In the course of his career he has graced the recordings and stage performances of the preeminent vocalists, instrumental artists and soundtracks of our time including the stunning sax solo on “I Will Always Love You,” performed by Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard. Whalum has lent his lyrical phrasing and melodic artistry to Babyface, Luther Vandross, Nancy Wilson, George Benson, Bebe & Cece Winans, Barbra Streisand, Vince Gill, Michael McDonald and Quincy Jones, among many others, with well over 100 recordings to his credit.

Because of his love for working with young musicians, his tenure as artist in residence (the very first) at Stax Music Academy in Memphis since 2006 has been particularly meaningful. He was subsequently named the Varnell Artist in Residence at Memphis Theological Seminary, where he is finishing his Masters degree. His relationship with Stax has deepened and he was recently appointed as CEO of both the Stax Museum and Music Academy, and hopes to serve as an ambassador around the world for the legacy of soul music it represents.

In many ways, Everything Is Everything: The Music Of Donny Hathaway is part of Whalum’s connection and commitment to that heritage that continues to inform and shape the world’s musical expression. The elegance, intelligence and depth of his Mack Avenue debut are a tribute to one of America’s musical treasures and a testament to Whalum’s expansive and unquenchable artistry and soul.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Herb Alpert's sculptures, like visual jazz

The famed trumpet player's abstract works are on display in Beverly Hills.

Standing in a forest of sinuous, black totems spiraling into the lofty heights of the main room at Ace Gallery Beverly Hills, Herb Alpert is surrounded by an art form he has practiced for the last two decades — sculpture. By his account and that of those who know him, he's a man who lives on the right side of his brain — he percolates on the creative and the intuitive.

"I do something every day, whether sculpting or painting," he says. "It definitely feeds my spirit when I sculpt or paint or blow the horn, that's an essential part of my being."

He also believes that others should have a chance for self-expression through the arts, as well as positive standards of living, and to that end he has given away nearly $100 million over 20 years.

At 75, his art practice and his arts philanthropy keep him busy. Just this spring, he read an account of the imminent demise of the venerable Harlem School of the Arts because of lack of funding. Since the early 1960s the New York institution has provided training in music, dance, theater and the visual arts to mostly underprivileged kids.

Alpert quickly called Rona Sebastian, the head of his foundation. "Unbelievable," he said, and set her to seeing what they could do about it. She approached New York's Department of Cultural Affairs, and in two weeks the Herb Alpert Foundation was able to offer a half million dollar matching grant — it saved the school.

Yes, he's the man better known for wielding his trumpet, mellifluously leading the Tijuana Brass in the 1960s in such tunes as "A Taste of Honey" and "What Now My Love."

When Alpert was 8, he picked up the trumpet and knew it would be his musical partner for life. The painting came some two decades later. "When I was touring in the '60s with my group, I used to go to museums," he recalls. "It seems like I was always going to the Modern art section." A low-key, soft-spoken man, he sports combed back gray hair and a light beard, and wears a black T-shirt he has hand-painted.

"I had a feeling I might move some paint around and have a good time," he says. "I started with acrylics. I wasn't crazy about the smell of oil paints, and I wanted to work quicker." He was naturally drawn to abstract forms, and he picked up some technique from his friend artist Les Biller. Biller gave him valuable advice — he thought his paintings were too "center-conscious." "And it kind of freed me," he says.

This need to keep moving, ahead or in different directions, seems to pump Alpert's creative juices. As he continued to paint, he also became interested in making three-dimensional work. Twenty years ago he learned from sculptor Kristan Marvell how to handle clay.

"Once I put my hand on the clay, I was hooked," he says. "It's a very sensual feeling, you can work very quickly if the clay is cooperating." First he made small pieces a few inches tall, then he made pieces several feet tall. "I had people help me build the armature," he says, "but I would work the clay myself."

All this began in his kitchen, he says with a laugh, "which my wife wasn't crazy about." Especially when he used a blowtorch to soften wax pieces. His wife is singer Lani Hall, with whom he released an album last year, "Anything Goes: Herb Alpert & Lani Hall Live." He also has an album coming out this fall, "I Feel You."

"When I ran out of space in the kitchen, I realized I needed a studio," he says. They built one on their property in Malibu. "And we're running out of space there. I just rented a storage space where I could put my molds." The works in "Black Totems," the current show, are made of bronze coated with a soft black patina, and reach up to 18 feet high. They are cast at a local foundry and require several molds each.

Alpert has been making these "totems" for a decade. He was inspired by seeing totems created by Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, and also by the tall, gnarly "scholar's rocks" prized by traditional Chinese literati, such as those in the Chinese Garden at the Huntington. "There was a progression, I started making them larger and larger," he says. "As they go up, there are parts I change from the original concept. I like to keep that spontaneity — to me it's like jazz."

While his sculptures are abstract, they do suggest organic forms twisting in space, segments piled atop one another. "[E]ach one is an aspiration toward the heavens," critic Peter Clothier recently wrote in the Huffington Post, "an expression of the enduring, deeply human need to be one with nature and our fellow-travelers on this planet, and at the same time to integrate with some power beyond our fragile, temporal existence."

Alpert is reluctant to say what he sees in the work, not wanting to influence how others see. However, several are topped with distinctly bird-like forms, perched or about to take flight, and as his eye looks around, he admits, "Here's the head of a double bass fiddle, and this one is called the maestro, the conductor of the orchestra."

Writing checks

Such creativity and intuition have also guided Alpert's philanthropy, which is exercised through the Herb Alpert Foundation. Two years ago, Parade magazine published the Giving Back Fund's rating of celebrity generosity — Alpert was ranked second ($13 million in annual giving), after Oprah Winfrey ($50 million) and ahead of Barbra Streisand ($11 million). For Alpert, that generosity comes naturally. "I feel that giving is a breeding ground for receiving," he says.

Although the foundation was established in 1988, president Sebastian says it really got off the ground a couple years later; 1990 is also the year he and business partner Jerry Moss sold A&M Records to Polygram for a reported $460 million. In 1962 they had founded A&M to produce albums for the Tijuana Brass; the company also successfully took on a slate of other talents including the Carpenters, Cheech and Chong, Joan Baez and Janet Jackson. When they sold the business, A&M was the largest independently owned record label in the world.

The foundation is located in Santa Monica, sharing a modest-sized building with some of the founder's other enterprises. His paintings — colorful abstract works made with bold swatches of paint — dot the walls.

Sebastian oversees a small, tightly-knit staff. Their grants fall into two main categories — arts and arts education, and compassion and well-being. In the last four years under her watch, they've given away $10 million to $20 million a year. That's included grants to institutions such as UCLA to organize its music program under the Herb Alpert School of Music and to the California State Summer School for the Arts to help run their summer program at CalArts.

Every year five individual artists and performers are selected for the Alpert Award in the Arts, which comes with a $75,000 grant. According to the program's 2009 brochure, the award is given to "experimenters who are challenging and transforming art, their respective disciplines, and society." Last year that included video artist Paul Chan, composer-musician John King and choreographer Reggie Wilson.

"We're a proactive foundation," Sebastian says. "Some foundations have guidelines and wait for people to apply. We go out and seek projects we think need to be funded."

One major Los Angeles arts institution, P.S. Arts, grew out of a chance meeting between Alpert and Paul Cummins, then headmaster of Crossroads School in Santa Monica. They were at a potluck dinner for parents and commiserated over the stripping away of arts education from public schools. "Herb was appalled and said, 'Is there something we can do about it?'" recalls Cummins, who already had ideas for a model program.

The Alpert Foundation pitched in with a grant for $600,000 over three years. That launched P.S. Arts at Broadway Elementary in Venice, the first of 22 schools where they would establish a weekly arts curriculum. That number includes seven schools in the Lawndale elementary school district and eight in LAUSD. Later came more aid totaling $3.1 million, and the Foundation will soon be announcing a grant to help them go the next step: to establish an endowment.

"He's one of the more extraordinary men I've ever met," says Cummins, now running his own foundation. "Not only his generosity, but his willingness to take risks, and to look at a problem and say, Let's fix it.'"

The CalArts Community Arts Partnership has been another recipient of Alpert's generosity. The program sends CalArts students, led by teachers and alumni, into 60 neighborhoods across L.A. County to teach the visual and performing arts. "I believe it was in 1992 that Alpert visited our jazz and world music program at the Watts Tower," says Glenna Avila, CAP's director. "We were training young high school students, and his initial scholarships helped students come to CalArts." Avila praises the foundation for being responsive to their needs. "They are now involved in program support, and they gave us a huge challenge grant in 2008 — they offered $1 million to help build our endowment."

"I just have to say," she adds, "what better way of leaving a legacy than assisting young artists in pursuit of their artistic dreams?"

Alpert himself is modest about his philanthropy — in this instance anyway, he lets others toot his horn. "I want to give back — I've been awfully blessed," he says quietly. "I had the opportunity to spread my good fortune and I wanted to do that in a very conscious way."

By Scarlet Cheng, Special to the Los Angeles Times
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Brian Simpson - "South Beach" Releases On Shanachie 8/31/10

“Brian is the consummate musician - he can do it all. But it’s his incredibly memorable and infectious melodies that truly set him apart. He just has a knack for writing these songs that take you on a journey and truly tell a story - and then he’s able to deliver them musically with his trademark style. I am a huge fan!” –DAVE KOZ

“What I love about Brian's playing is his understanding that melody and groove are important - the meat and potatoes of music. Brian has found a unique way of being musically creative while making his music accessible. My hats off to you B.”–GEORGE DUKE

Pre-order South Beach from

Celebrated keyboardist, composer and studio musician, Brian Simpson has been the ‘go-to’ man for everyone from Janet Jackson and Teena Marie to George Duke, Stanley Clarke and Dave Koz, for whom he has had the distinction of being musical director for the past 15 years.  The chart-topping musical chameleon who wrote the #1 R&B hit “The First Time” for Surface in the 1990s confesses, "Ultimately, my listeners inspire me to make my music.”  Simpson’s love for what he does is evident in every note on South Beach, his inaugural album for Shanachie Entertainment, due out August 31, 2010. Simpson surrounds himself with an A-list lineup that includes jazz icons George Duke, Peter White and Euge Groove.

Known for his ability to sculpt timeless love songs, soulful party anthems and melodies that stay on your mind, Brian Simpson is truly a master at his craft. South Beach delivers on every front. The album’s title track, with a jubilant vibe reminiscent of the Ramsey Lewis smash hit “The In Crowd,” is already top 30 on multiple jazz charts, two months prior to album release. ”I'm very happy we chose ‘South Beach’ as the first single,” confides Simpson, “because it's probably the song that's most indicative of my style. My travels take me to some pretty nice places, but my favorites are always the ones with beaches. In the last year I've been to Hawaii, Bali, Indonesia, and several beaches in Florida. I would walk along beaches listening to the rough ideas for this CD on my ipod. The wind, sea, and sand really inspired the melodies you'll hear on South Beach."

South Beach features a mix of breezy free-flowing numbers, funky blues-tinged romps and romantic ballads which draw you in from the first note. Songs like the George Benson-eque “Our Love,” “Can’t Tell You Why” and “All I Want Is You” show off Simpson’s knack for cooking up singable melodies and hip-swaying grooves.  Brian delivers a bossa nova vibe on the sweetly romantic “Paradise Island” and the hauntingly beautiful “Summer’s End.”

Hailing from Gurnee, Illinois, Brian always knew music would play center stage in his life. “Our house was filled with music. My older brother and sister both played instruments, and my brother's rock band rehearsed in our living room every weekend. I never really considered any other lifestyle,” shares the keyboardist.  Simpson’s breakthrough as a solo artist began in 2005 with the #1 radio hit “It’s All Good.” The title track of It’s All Good proved instantly and joyfully prophetic, as it hit #1 on the Radio & Records Smooth Jazz Airplay chart and remained in the Top 5 for four months.  His follow-up single “Saturday Cool” went Top 15. In 2007 Simpson released Above the Clouds, which delivered the memorable radio hits “What Cha Gonna Do?” (Top 10) and “Juicy” (Top 15). 

After graduating from Northern Illinois University, Simpson relocated to Los Angeles where he quickly immersed himself in the local jazz scene.  Late night jazz sessions found him playing alongside everyone from saxophonists Everette Harp and Boney James to guitarist Norman Brown.   The free-spirited musician soon found himself taking a temporary leave of absence from the jazz scene, touring the world with pop divas Teena Marie, Sheena Easton and Janet Jackson.  His foray into the pop world didn’t end there; in January 1991 he co-wrote the #1 Pop hit “The First Time” by Surface, which conquered both the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts.

Placing his success in pop aside, Brian Simpson has always been a working jazz musician.  He has toured with some of the greats of recent jazz history, including George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Larry Carlton, George Howard, Billy Cobham, and Gerald Albright.  Brian has been the musical director for jazz saxophonist Dave Koz for the past 15 years, and for the last 7 years the Musical Director of the ambitious and highly popular  “The Smooth Jazz Cruise.”

The charming and immensely talented musician concludes, “While working on South Beach in my studio I often stepped back to a corner of the room and closed my eyes, as if listening for the first time, to see if the music compelled an emotion. I truly hope the listener can feel the love and care that all of the musicians contributed to the recording.”

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Out on New York Harbor, Smooth Sailing and Jazz

The waters were placid, the breeze was a balm and the Statue of Liberty was keeping her vigil about a hundred yards aft. Maybe more, maybe less. From the rear deck of the Spirit of New York one recent evening, she seemed plenty close, anyway, and oddly approachable: an onshore well-wisher, watching over the slow pivot that marked the midpoint of our tour. By chance, this was the moment at which the music stopped, and a voice overrode the applause: “We’re going to skip ahead 27 albums and play something new for you.”

That was Jay Beckenstein, the saxophonist and leader of Spyro Gyra, making a segue from “Shaker Song,” which opens the band’s 1978 debut, into “Unspoken,” from an album released last year. We were aboard the Smooth Cruise, now in its 13th year, held each Wednesday through summer’s end by Spirit Cruises. Most passengers were inside with the band, closing in on a swatch of dance floor, but the sound was also being piped on deck, where I slouched at a rail. I was having a suspiciously good time.

Smooth jazz is all about pleasure, but I hadn’t expected much. It isn’t really my thing, this waxy, wine-lighted catchall genre — also known by niche-programming terms like urban contemporary, chill and, confusingly, contemporary jazz. Not that I’m inclined to moralize about it; for me, smooth jazz has always been less of an affront than an afterthought, like frozen TV dinners. My fallback strategy is avoidance. So any thoughts of boarding a Smooth Cruise stirred a mild trepidation, along with a milder enthusiasm.

The enthusiasm was almost conceptual, rooted in the elegance of the pairing. I mean, Smooth Cruise: the two words seem meant for each other. Both cruises and smooth jazz hold the promise of a passive indulgence, of kicking back and letting go.

Not surprisingly, the luxury cruise industry is on top of this, with big-ticket enticements like the Smooth Jazz Cruise, which pokes around the Caribbean in January, and Dave Koz & Friends at Sea, off the Alaskan coast in August. “The absolute finest in lifestyle entertainment,” pledges Mr. Koz, the saxophonist, in an online mission statement; his weeklong cruise features himself, along with the likes of Kirk Whalum and Mindi Abair.

A more modest experience is proffered by Spirit Cruises, and a lesser commitment is required. The Smooth Cruise in New York runs a brisk two hours; a pair of tickets for the “sunset” outing was $82.72, but taxes and fees bring them to just over $100. (A “moonlight” option, the equivalent of a second set, is the same price.) A dinner buffet and drinks are optional.

And the Smooth Cruise, organized by Smooth Jazz New York, a subsidiary of Marquee Concerts, doesn’t skimp on headliners. Next week’s cruise will feature Pieces of a Dream, a band whose track record runs nearly as far back as Spyro Gyra’s. Mr. Whalum will appear on Aug. 11, as one of the saxophonists in a popular Guitars and Saxes package; Ms. Abair, yet another saxophonist, is scheduled for Aug. 25. The Rippingtons will play the week in between on Aug. 18.

Not all of these artists luxuriate in their smoothness.

“We preceded smooth jazz by nearly a decade,” Mr. Beckenstein said by phone a couple of days after the cruise. “We came out of Weather Report and Miles Davis and the fusion movement. And smooth jazz, interestingly enough, was more of a radio format than it was a style of music. A whole generation of artists, especially after the success of Kenny G, was encouraged by record companies to chase the radio format. That’s not what we did. So no, I’ve never considered myself a smooth jazz artist.”

Still, he allowed, Spyro Gyra is booked on the Capital Jazz SuperCruise in October out of Miami, along with Mr. Whalum, George Duke and others.

A similar ambivalence has plagued the smooth jazz economy in recent years. It buckled significantly in 2008, when WQCD-FM, the New York beacon long branded as CD101.9, switched to a rock format, like many other smooth jazz stations across the country. The shift has prompted its share of reflection. Last month Kenny G himself released an album with guest turns by Babyface and Robin Thicke, tactically aligning himself with R&B. The keyboardist Brian Culbertson did much the same on an album released this week. (His guests include Kenny Lattimore and Brian McKnight.)

The Smooth Cruise — which often sells out its capacity of 600 each on two cruises a night — is a haven from these market calculations, even though CD101.9 was its title sponsor for years.
“When they changed format — well, that audience is still there,” said Bill Zafiros, CD101.9’s former event director, now a partner in Marquee Concerts. “So what we’re doing is serving that audience. And they’re very passionate about this music.”

My experience confirmed his claim: the base for this particular “lifestyle entertainment” is loyal and enthusiastic, as well as ethnically and demographically diverse. While awaiting boarding, at Pier 61 at Chelsea Piers, I encountered only repeat customers, like Cheryl Davis and her husband, Richard, of Brooklyn. They said they hardly missed a Smooth Cruise last summer, and had similar plans for this year. (Another discovery made in line: the Smooth Cruise is partly sponsored by The New York Times, for the second year in a row.)

There are three decks on the Spirit of New York, and during a Smooth Cruise, the second deck is where the musicians set up on the dance floor, along the ship’s port side. Seasoned cruisers either scored a spot within several feet of the musicians or made a beeline for the third deck, where a string of coveted tables overlooked the dance floor, as if along a horseshoe balcony.

Others headed straight to the buffet, though I can report that the food, at $19.23 a head (pretax was steam-tray grim, a defeated allotment of leathery prime rib, grayish salmon and congealed mac-and-cheese. Far better to make pre- or post-cruise restaurant reservations, thereby avoiding not only the buffet but also the need for a table.

Freedom to move about the ship is, after all, one thing that distinguishes the Smooth Cruise from a place like the Blue Note, where Spyro Gyra played a weeklong stand last year. Hence the leisurely Statue of Liberty sighting, and a later excursion to the windswept top deck, for a never-gets-old perusal of the Lower Manhattan skyline.

But that was me. Plenty of other patrons stayed put, listening raptly to the band. And as a long, flashy drum solo led inexorably toward the encore — ”Morning Dance,” a certifiable smooth-jazz classic, complete with synthesized steel drums — the dance floor got blissfully crowded, as in the final stretch of a good wedding reception. That glow had barely faded by the time we were back at Pier 61, steeling ourselves for the grit of summer pavement. No doubt some of us were already making plans for next time.

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